Image Credits: Fistosports
Injuries and rejection. The effect of both on a professional table tennis player should not be underestimated. They can not only dent a player’s confidence, but in some cases break them completely. Ankita Das has had fair share of the aforementioned blows.
In late 2015, she lost her pillar of strength, her father. More pertinently, though, came a much bigger setback a year later as she suffered a serious knee injury that resulted in a 8-month spell on the sidelines.
Early days and father’s dream
Coming from a non-sports family, Ankita Das has been one the leading players of Indian Women’s Table Tennis of this decade so far. Ankita holds the distinction of being multiple national champions from cadet, sub-junior, junior category to senior category, coupled that with India’s No.1 multiple times, also Ankita was the only female TT player for India in London Olympics 2012.
Starting early in the famed Siliguri Table Tennis Academy under Mr. Amit Dam, Ankita Das has achieved a career high ranking of #168 and has been the Indian No.1 already. Ill-timed injuries have halted Ankita’s progress just as she was making the next jump in her career. As she works towards getting into her best rhythm this year, Anktia took out some time from her schedule to do this interview with us. Ankita grew up in Silliguri, on the outskirts Darjeeling. However, it was on her father’s dream that made her fall in love with Table Tennis. When Ankita was 5-years-old, Mr. Das decided to put her daughter in table tennis. The little girl who toddled to the table tennis coaching in Siliguri has come a long way since.
Dreams of Airforce pilot, but excels in TT
During her school days, Ankita wanted to be an Airforce Service Pilot. “I used to be brightest kid in my school and I was never the type of person enjoyed watching sports during my early years,” Ankita recounted, in an exclusive interaction with Fisto Sports.
“I started playing because my father wanted me to excel in sports, but I never thought I would participate in the Olympics, or break into Indian No.1 ranking at some time, for that part of the matter.” “My first coach, Mr. Amit Dam, made me realise how good I can be if I took up the seriously. Then, I started playing the game with serious interest and started taking part in competitions. That’s how my journey started,” she said.
Ankita was quickly making a name for herself in the youth ranks which earned her first two gold medals at the Ajmer Cadet girls singles. I was training under from the age of and worked my way up to the age groups to Under-16 level,” she said. Asked who is her sporting idol, Ankita did not think much and straightway mentioned Poulomi Ghatak. "It is Paulomi Ghatak. I like her attitude while playing her game and off the field as well. I also want to have that attitude and mentality like Paulomi.
Ankita was first exposed to the limelight when she won the Youth Girls singles silver medal, Junior Girls bronze medal, Junior Girls doubles in 71st Junior National at Raipure, 2009. The table tennis life of Ankita Das really took a fruitful turn when she began training under Mrs. Mantu Ghosh (2005-2012), Arjuna Awardee, ex national champion – Ankita was in imperious form, as she claimed the title of National Champion from 2005-2006 in Sub-Junior Category, 2007, 2008, 2009 in Junior Champions.
Ghosh also suggested that “If I start developing myself and taking the sport very seriously then I might become a better player,” the youngster recalled.
In 2011, after finishing her board exam, Ankita took part in the World Championships and she provided a tough fight against series of world rank holders but ultimately fell in quarterfinals despite an inspired performance. Soon later, Ankita made history to become the only female TT player to represent India in the London Olympics 2012. She beat K Samimi in a 4-3 game in the qualifying round in Hong Kong, thereby ensuring her ticket from the South Asian group.
“When I look back at 2012, I realise that it was perhaps the most important year of my life. It’s everyone’s dream to represent their country at the Olympics. It was a huge thing for me,” she said. 2014 seemed to be a great year for Ankita after made her way into the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, but couldn’t participate in the singles category.
Being tipped as the future of Indian Table Tennis, Ankita Das was viewed as a huge talent and possessed a backhand in her game. However, just when the Siliguri native was slowly rising in the rankings, her career all went downhill when she lost her pillar of strength, her father, on 2016. In the following year, she was hit by a career-threatening knee injury which took her out of the game for more than 8 months. “I was in Chennai training under Mr.Raman sir when I heard the most devastating news of my father passing away,” she grieved at the sad tone.
Even now, not a single day goes by for Ankita when she is not thinking about her father. “After dad passed away, I had a few bad years, I had pain to do anything: eat, speak, go the bathroom. At the beginning I was not in a good mood. It was very painful, I had to stay three weeks sat on the sofa doing nothing.” “That’s was the time when I understood what he had meant in my life. He really wanted me to myself and be good at what I do. I took up the sport because of him. He was my everything.”
The big blow
In 2016, She took part in a national championship the next year and won gold medal as well. Soon later, Ankita lost all her form and was unable to get any wins in the next few matches. More pertinently, though, came a much bigger setback a year later as she suffered a serious knee injury that resulted in a 8-month spell on the sidelines. Speaking about her injury, Ankita used “hard” to describe the process of recovery. “There were moments when I did not know whether I would ever return to sports. Things weren’t working out well for me, people started to doubt my ability. They only praise you as long as you’re in the top ranked position. There was an urge inside me that wants to prove my doubters wrong.”
The former Indian number 1 was certainly grateful to the people around her, and what they have done for her to be able to return to the professional circuit once again. “I’m glad that everything turned out well for me. I got supportive people like Ravi Shankar, my mentor, who helped to put me on my feet, who believed in me, worked with me, and helped me." 8-months could be considered a very long period of time for professional TT players. The journey back was a very long one, and it was also met with many obstacles as the pain was sometimes too unbearable. She “took her first steps of basics” before finally getting back on the court, which was described as her “happiest moments”.
Looking towards the future
Ankita mentioned that she will participate in the All India Inter Institutional Table Tennis Championships, aiming to gain some ranking points and momentum heading into the new year. 'Maybe it would have been better to start over from an easier tournament but I am quite calm. Obviously, I don't have big expectations. How am I now? Good but still in the process of rehab, but it's normal after the injury I come from. Mentally, I remain a little bit influenced but in general I have good feelings. “I think I had a lot of rejection and doubt. But I think that shaped who I am today,” she said.
When asked about her ultimate dream goal, this was Ankita’s answer, “Salute the Indian flag wearing the Air Force Pilot uniform,” Congrats! You're one step closer to your dream!